An Arts & Business pARTnership

The arts and corporate communities have an interesting, long-standing relationship—especially here in Hartford. In fact, the Arts Council owes its very existence to the corporate community; back in 1971, businesses got together and encouraged the creation of one fundraising and grantmaking entity to support the arts and cultural organizations in Hartford that were growing at an astonishing pace—and, understandably, had increased their need for donations and institutional support. Since then, a somewhat amusing relationship has formed between the arts and business: companies like strong arts organizations—they attract workers, give the neighborhood a rich, vibrant flavor and provide opportunities for positive stewardship. The arts, too, rely on business for more than just philanthropy: the wealth of resources in the corporate world, from providing pro bono services and building connections with local leaders and everyday employees, businesses have much to offer the arts.

Yet we all seem to get hung up on the almighty dollar.

Trust me, it’s something we talk about every day. Probably multiple times a day. How much is this company willing to give? Who can we get to sponsor this event? How many employees do they have—and, how successful will the employee giving drive turn out to be? The unfortunate reality of an unforgiving fundraising climate is that we sometimes miss the forest beyond the trees.

Businesses have a lot more to offer than financial support, so we need to make sure we take advantage of every resource. As marketing, fundraising and community outreach professionals, we must always be looking for new opportunities to help the arts—even if there’s no dollar sign attached.

A lesson beyond the bottom line.

Mayor Pedro Segarra and the NU video team getting ready to film.

I learned (well, re-learned) this lesson the good way the other day. We’ve been having conversations with Northeast Utilities about their annual workplace giving campaign, and suddenly they struck upon an ingenious idea: wouldn’t it be great if the Arts Council had a compelling, well-produced video appeal to use for the 2012 United Arts Campaign? And, what if it featured Mayor Pedro Segarra, this year’s campaign chair? Is that something NU could offer? The answer was yes to all of the above.

Obviously I loved the idea. The professional video and editing services at Northeast Utilities go way, way (way, way, way) beyond what I could afford to pay. So sure, they’re not cutting us a check. But, their pro bono, in-kind support will give us a valuable fundraising and community relations tool that we wouldn’t have been able to create on our own. Plus, it reminds the community of all of the good work our corporate partners do for nonprofits—a win-win for both of us.

Meaghan, one of our Workplace Giving Associates, joined me at City Hall to meet the team from NU to film the Mayor’s address. While we don’t have the final cut yet, I can tell you from seeing the first edit that this is going to be a great video. What I can do is post a few of my (in)famous blurry cell phone picks for a ‘behind the scenes’ video set-up of the Mayor and the NU tech team in action (see above).

This was a great, eye-opening (or eye-re-opening) experience about what businesses can contribute beyond the bottom line. I was talking to another staff member today—Laura, also from the Workplace Giving team—about Americans for the Art’s pARTnership movement, an evolving campaign that aims to build better, mutually beneficial relationships between arts organizations and the business community. This story would be right up their alley.

Special thanks to Laura, Jon and Mark from Northeast Utilities and everyone in the Mayor’s office for making this project a reality.

Coming soon: I’ll give an overview of the pARTnership movement in the next couple of weeks and what it means for Hartford. In the meantime, stay tuned for the final cut of Mayor Segarra’s campaign message.

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